LeBron James Carmelo Anthony

Miami edges New York with execution; can the Knicks sustain going one-on-one?

20 Comments

It was a battle of very successful, very flawed approaches, when you think about it.

The Miami Heat edged the New York Knicks with a closing round flurry Sunday, 93-85. The Heat looked like the much better team in the first and fourth quarters, New York the more complete and hungrier squad in the 2nd and 3rd. What we learned inside those two subsets revealed a pair of elements about both teams.

  • Both the Heat and the Knicks are extremely talented and when they are doing what they do best, can simply overwhelm the other team with talent.
  • Both the Heat and the Knicks suffer from a lack of cohesive effort. Mentally for the Heat, and approach for the Knicks.

The Heat had the same issues they’ve had for the past two years. After transforming into a flying death machine for the first quarter, getting out and running and creating havoc with superior physical ability, once the Knicks adjusted and started forcing containment, the Heat ran into complex coverage and started forcing it. You know the drill. Turnovers, off-balance jumpers, trying to out-talent the opponent with tough shots instead of using their talent to create easy ones.

So how did Miami win? Because New York’s approach is valiant, and impressive, and not at all sustainable. The Knicks relied on isolation plays from Carmelo Anthony consistently, and after 43 minutes, and when faced with varying coverages from Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, Anthony simply couldn’t seal the deal. Working your tail off on defense is what puts the Knicks in position to win, and great players hitting big shots is an indelible part of the NBA. But relying on it so much for 48 minutes is just not a sustainable approach. Synergy Sports indicates that Anthony went ISO 19 times against Miami. The Heat by comparison as a team went ISO 23 times, including 14 for LeBron James. That’s a lot of one-on-one play.

And in the end, the Heat made the plays. They shut down Anthony, who only had two field goals in the fourth. James and Wade each had two in the final five minutes. Combine that with some questionable decision making, and the Heat were able to finish off the Knicks.

Now, Anthony carried them with that same play for much of the game. Anthony was a monster, and it’s amazingly impressive that he can produce at that level given how hard it is to go one-on-five. But it’s not sustainable. There’s definitely a time and place for giving Anthony, arguably the best one-on-one player in the league right now, the ball and letting him do work. But after that many minutes and that many shots, defended by two of the best players in the league, it just didn’t work out.

The Knicks may have proved Sunday they can hang with Miami, scare them, force the issue, especially if Jeremy Lin and Amar’e Stoudemire return. But can they win? Maybe some. But overall?

The war looks a lot different than the individual battles. For the Heat, they get a road win against a playoff opponent who plays tough defense, by getting clutch scoring from their two stars. Both teams did what they do, and though from here it doesn’t look good enough to win a title, for the Heat it’s a good sign. For the Knicks, it’ll be a coin flip as long as this is their approach.

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Getty Images
1 Comment

Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

2 Comments

With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.

Cavaliers retake series lead at home with rout of Raptors

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
5 Comments

The Eastern Conference Finals have been all about the comforts of home. Through five games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the home team has come out on top convincingly every time. Wednesday’s Game 5 was no different, with the Cavs destroying the Raptors, 116-78 to take a 3-2 series lead.

After a pair of awful games in Toronto, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving stepped up at home to score 25 and 23 points, respectively, to go along with 23 from LeBron James. The big production from their stars was enough to keep the Raptors at bay — the only other Cavs player to score in double figures was Richard Jefferson, who had 11 points, but it didn’t matter.

On the other side, after coming up huge at home in Games 3 and 4, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot 7-for-20 from the field Wednesday, and nobody else did much to pick up the slack. After not trailing by 30 at a half at any point this season, Toronto trailed by 31 at halftime, and the lead ballooned to 100-60 at the end of the third quarter. From the beginning, this game was one-sided.

The Cavs can close out the series on the road on Friday, ensuring James’ sixth straight trip to the Finals. But the Raptors have been a different team at home during this series, and in a do-or-die situation they should come out with more fight. It’s hard to imagine things going much worse than they did Wednesday.

Report: Joakim Noah having “positive dialogue” with Bulls about future

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Associated Press
1 Comment

And the spin keeps on happening.

First came the report that Joakim Noah was telling teammates he was out of Chicago. Followed by Noah’s agent — the person charged with keeping Noah’s options open — saying that was not true.

Now comes team management — the people who said they want to keep Noah with the Bulls — saying the sides are still talking, and they want him to stay. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Veteran Bulls center Joakim Noah, his representatives and the Chicago front office continue to have a “positive dialogue” about a new contract amid a report that Noah has been telling teammates he’s ready to leave the franchise, a league source told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Those close to Noah, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, are still hopeful that he will be able to work out an agreement to stay in Chicago long term.

I’m going to let you in on a real insider bit of knowledge on what team Noah will play for next season:

Whatever team pays him the most money.

I know, it’s crazy, but sometimes people make a decision about where to work based on pay. Right now, everything is posturing. Come July 1, money will go on the table, and then Noah will know just how badly the Bulls want to keep him vs. other teams wanting to bring him in. Once the money is out there, if things are roughly even, then minutes and role on the team, lifestyle, weather and all the rest come into play.

But Puffy had it right — it’s all about the Benjamins.